Monday, 27 April 2015

Boneless Pork Chops Wrapped with Roasted Garlic and Bacon

With this recipe I was able to use up the last of the rubs that have been sitting in the spice drawer. I found 3 slices of bacon in the freezer, that I didn't know were in there...bonus! Roasted garlic finished off this yummy chicken, and I paired it with roasted apples, which took care of the 2 apples that were getting soft. All in all, a successful meal.

Start off by roasting a bulb of garlic ( see the post Garlic for the method), allowing it to cool before removing it from the skin and mashing it into a paste. Set this aside until needed.

Heat the oven to 400F.

Peel, core and slice 2 apples into wedges. Toss them with:

Ground cumin
Olive oil

Heat a heavy bottomed pan until it is smoking hot.

Add the apples, scraping all the oil, honey and cumin out along with the slices.

Turn the heat to medium high and cook, stirring often.

Cook the apples until they are golden and crispy on
the outside and then place the whole pan into the oven, and roast until the apples are tender.

While the apples are roasting, assemble and cook the pork.

Stretch the bacon out as thinly as you can, without breaking the rashers.

Sprinkle with the rub. I had about 2 tablespoons of rub. 
Lightly season the pork; bacon is salty so be careful not to use too much salt.
Spread the cooled garlic paste on one side of each pork chop.

Carefully wrap one piece of bacon around each pork chop, placing the side with the rub on it towards the meat.

Place the bacon wrapped pork into a smoking hot pan, cooking the first side until the bacon is crispy. No oil is needed, as the fat in the bacon is sufficient.
Carefully turn it over, and then place the whole pan into the oven, alongside the apples.

Bake the pork until it is cooked through. Allow it to rest for 5 minutes before serving it with the apples on the side.

  • If you have no rub, or want to use something different, mix together brown sugar and ground black pepper.
  • Remove the pork from the pan to rest, and a quick sauce can be made by adding chicken stock, apple juice and/ or wine to the pan, and allowing it to reduce by half. Swirl a couple of tablespoons of cold butter into the liquid just before serving.
  • Chicken breasts, pork tenderloin, beef tenderloin or steak can be used instead of pork chops. I was using centre cut boneless chops. Jumbo scallops can also be wrapped in the rub and bacon.
  • The meat can be cooked on the barbecue.
  • Pears can be used if you have no apples. Shallots or pearl onions can be roasted alongside the fruit.
  • Apple juice can be added to keep the fruit moist, and turn it into a roasted applesauce.
  • Spice it up by adding minced chipotle peppers in adobe sauce to the apples before roasting.
  • Crumbled blue, goat cheese, cooked crumbled sausage or applesauce can be used with, or in place of, the roasted garlic paste.
  • Chopped fresh herbs such as sage, rosemary or thyme can be added to the roasted garlic paste. Fresh whole sage leaves can be laid directly onto the pork, before adding the roasted garlic and wrapping it all in bacon.
  • Try prosciutto, pancetta or ham for the wrapping. You will need to add a bit of olive oil to the pan if you are using ham or prosciutto, as they are not as fatty as bacon and pancetta are.
  • The pork can be assembled and kept refrigerated a day ahead. 

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Baked Acorn Squash, Stuffed with Chicken and Rice

I had an acorn squash waiting to be used, and when I remembered some leftover rice that was in the fridge I knew this would be a great combination. I added some cooked leftover chicken, cheese and barbecue sauce and used it to stuff the squash.

Cut the acorn squash in half, and scoop out the seeds.

Put it cut side down in a shallow dish, with about 1/2" of water, and bake in a 350F oven until tender when gently squeezed.

Remove from the oven and allow the squash to cool.

To make the filling, combine the following:

2 cups cooked rice
3/4 cup diced cooked chicken
2 chopped green onions
1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
1/4 cup of cream cheese
salt and pepper to taste

When the filling is combined, stir in:

2 tablespoons of Barbecue sauce

Taste and adjust seasoning.

Scoop the filling into the 2 halves of squash, mounding it slightly.

Sprinkle with grated cheddar.

Place in a 350F oven, and bake until the squash and the filling are heated through, and the cheese is melted and bubbling.

  • Any leftover cooked starch can be substituted for the rice. Try quinoa, barley, brown rice (I used basmati rice), small pasta such as orzo or macaroni, or mashed potatoes. If you like lentils, these can also be used, as can beans of any type.
  • I had chicken in the fridge, but any cooked meat can be added to the starch. Crumbled sausage, diced ham or bacon, shrimp, flaked cooked fish, diced cooked pork or beef or even pulled pork.
  • Add fresh herbs such as parsley, thyme or basil. Spices such as cayenne pepper, chili powder or ground cumin will also be great.
  • I was out of frozen corn, but would have added some. Other vegetables to add include diced red peppers, beans, chopped cooked spinach or kale, cooked mushrooms, leftover grilled or roasted vegetables, diced tomatoes.
  • Cheese is a personal preference, and the person who was eating this loves cheddar. Pepper Jack, Swiss or smoked mozzarella would make nice alternatives.
  • The cream cheese adds moisture and creaminess. Soft goat cheese can be used if you prefer the tartness. Use extra barbecue instead, or another sauce such as cream sauce,  Basil Pesto or Basic Tomato Sauce.
  • Butternut squash, spaghetti squash, gem squash, zucchini that have been halved lengthwise or even small pumpkins can be stuffed.
  • The squash can be baked and stuffed a day ahead of time, and kept well wrapped in the fridge. Once it is baked it will also keep for a couple of days in the fridge. It can also be frozen, but doesn't hold it's shape well after freezing. Frozen squash is best used for purees in soups or lasagne.
  • Instead of stuffing the squash, slice it (peeled or unpeeled) into 1" thick slices. Layer these in an ovenproof dish, with pecans, caramelized onions and thinly sliced apples or pears. Add a bit of apple juice or cider. Cover with foil and bake until tender. Remove the foil and sprinkle the top with a bit of brown sugar and cinnamon and allow the sugar to start bubbling before serving.

Friday, 17 April 2015

Baked Hake with Fennel Chive Butter

When I saw the frozen hake fillets in one of our local grocery stores, I was really excited. I grew up with hake, and this was imported from South Africa. Naturally, I bought some...

I chose to sear and bake the fish and serve it with a simple herb butter, using the last 1/4 cup of butter in the fridge, and adding some fresh herbs from the garden. This allowed the fish to be the star of the meal. I added some asparagus and a green salad to round out the meal.

I had a lemon to use, and picked some fresh chives and fennel leaves from my herb garden.

Grate the zest from the lemon, and finely chop the herbs.

Stir or whip 1/4 cup of softened butter until it starts to become creamy and fluffy.

the zest from the lemon
the chopped herbs
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
salt to taste, start with 1/2 teaspoon

When everything is well combined, divide the herbed butter into 5 small balls, and place onto plastic wrap.

Cover with more plastic wrap and place in the fridge until needed.

Heat the oven to 375F.

Add some olive oil to a hot pan.

Lightly season the fish with salt and pepper.

Add the fish to the pan and quickly sear both sides. Put it into the oven to finish cooking; this took about 6 minutes.

Serve the fish alongside the asparagus and salad. Squeeze some lemon juice over the fish, using the zested lemon. Top each serving with a piece of the herb butter, which will melt and create a light butter sauce.

  • Flavoured butters are a good choice to serve with fish or steak that has been simply prepared...baked or grilled. They are also something that can be prepared ahead and frozen, and can be adapted to use up just about anything from fresh herbs, spices, cheese or vegetables. Here are some combinations to try: blue cheese and black pepper; basil, rosemary and lemon; garlic and Parmesan; minced fresh ginger, chives and coriander; chipotle peppers in adobe sauce and cumin; minced black olives and sundried tomatoes; chopped capers and dill.
  • The butter can be piped onto parchment paper and frozen, or formed into balls onto the paper as I did. It can also be formed into a log and wrapped in parchment paper or plastic wrap; slice off  a disc for each serving of meat or fish.
  • Other fish that pairs well with flavoured butters are salmon, marlin, snapper or trout. Pasta that is topped with grilled prawns or scallops can also be topped with a flavoured butter. The butter can also be added to fish that is cooked in parchment paper (Sole Baked in Parchment Paper with Capers and Lemon).
  • Add some interest to steamed, grilled or blanched vegetables by tossing them in a bit of herbed butter. Asparagus, green beans, carrots or Brussels sprouts are excellent served this way.
  • Remove the stem from some large mushrooms, and place the butter into the mushroom cap, place in the oven and roast. Drizzle with a bit of balsamic vinegar just before serving.
  • Use the butter for potatoes...when mashing them, serving baked potatoes or even roasting potatoes. When new potatoes are in season, what could be better than topping them with mint butter?
  • Next time you are roasting a whole chicken or turkey, gently loosen the skin on the breast, and stuff some butter underneath. This will help keep the breast moist during roasting, and will add that extra bit of seasoning.
  • Sweet butter can also be made and served with scones or warm loaves, such as banana or blueberry. Whip the butter with honey, vanilla, sweet spices such as cinnamon or even with melted dark chocolate. This can also be served with waffles or pancakes for brunch.

Monday, 13 April 2015

Mixed Greens with Chicken, Blue Cheese and Roast Garlic - Maple Vinaigrette

I was reading a magazine the other day and saw a recipe for a Cobb salad, which was the inspiration for this meal, although I have to admit I went a bit off track as I started to pull bits and pieces out of the fridge! Traditionally, Cobb salad is a chopped salad, often arranged with each ingredient showcased separately. It starts with chopped greens such as iceberg or romaine lettuce, then is topped with tomatoes, hard boiled eggs, cooked bacon, chicken breast, avocado and blue cheese.

I had mixed salad greens and 2 chicken breasts to use, as well as some hard boiled eggs, a handful of grape tomatoes, some baby cucumbers, 3 blood oranges and of course, some blue cheese. No avocado though...well, they weren't ripe enough to use! I threw in some pecans, as I had about 1/3 of a cup left, and made an easy roast garlic - maple vinaigrette.

In a dry frying pan, toast the pecans over a medium low heat, stirring often. Set aside to cool. Dice and cook 4 rashers of bacon in the same pan, draining it on some paper towel when it is crispy. Pour the excess bacon fat out of the pan. Place 12 cloves of garlic in the oven to roast (see the post Garlic if you haven't roasted garlic before). Set it aside to cool when it is ready.

Season the chicken breasts with salt and pepper, and cook them in the pan from the bacon.

The residual bacon fat will prevent the chicken from sticking, and will also add a smoky flavour.

When the chicken is cooked through, remove it from the heat and allow it to rest for 10 minutes, before slicing thinly.

I peeled 3 blood oranges, and sectioned them. I saved the juice for the vinaigrette.

In a large bowl, place the salad ingredients:

2 good handfuls of washed greens per person
the orange segments
halved grape tomatoes
sliced baby cucumbers
toasted pecans

Make the vinaigrette by combining the following in a jug, and combine using a hand blender. Taste and adjust seasoning.

12 cloves roasted garlic, peeled
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon maple syrup
the juice from the blood oranges
4 - 6 tablespoons of olive oil

Add 4 tablespoons of olive oil to start, then taste and adjust the acidity and consistency by adding more oil, or more vinegar.

Add half the dressing to the salad, and toss gently until the lettuce leaves and other ingredients are lightly coated, adding more dressing as needed. Divide between your plates, top with the sliced chicken, crumbled blue cheese and place the quartered hard boiled egg on the side.

  • As is the case with any salad, change up the greens to suit your tastes and/or availability. Try romaine, quartered lengthwise with dressing drizzled over the cut side; butter lettuce, cored and placed on the plate with dressing drizzled over it; arugula, watercress or mustard greens; radicchio or Belgian endive; spinach or curly leaf lettuce.
  • If I am serving a salad as the meal, I like to add more than just the main protein. Think nuts, seeds, eggs, cheese...
  • Add crunch with vegetables such as red peppers, cucumber, carrots or by adding croutons.
  • Always think of presentation and colour when choosing ingredients...a salad that's all green, or has only red vegetables added doesn't have as much visual appeal as one with red, yellow, green, black, white.
  • I like to keep on the lighter side when dressing a salad. People can always add extra; pass the dressing at the table for this purpose.
  • If you are able to buy quail eggs, boil them and add them to the salad for something fun. To boil them, place them in a pot of water, and bring to a boil; boil for 3 minutes then remove from the heat, cool and peel.
  • Baby potatoes that have been sliced or diced, boiled in salted water until just tender can also be added to a salad. Toss them with some of the dressing while they are still warm and they will absorb it,  along with all of its flavour.
  • Any leftover meat is perfect to add to a salad like this... pork, chicken, fish or beef.
  • Invest in some little airtight containers that can hold enough vinaigrette for one serving, and taking salads like this to work becomes a treat. Pack everything in an airtight dish, leaving enough room for mixing; pack the dressing separately. Dress your salad when you are ready to eat...a colourful, fresh, crisp and healthy lunch! Just don't forget a fork!!

Friday, 10 April 2015

Mango and Tamarind Glazed Pork Tenderloin with Asian Slaw

I have had some tamarind paste in the fridge for a while, and decided that it's time to use it again. It lasts a while, but it's taking up space in the fridge. Tamarind paste is made from the fruit of the tamarind tree and is used in a lot of Asian cuisines. It is very sour, and is usually balanced out with some kind of sweetener.

This recipe calls for tamarind paste and balsamic vinegar, but is balance by the sweetness from the mango juice and hoisin sauce. The marinade becomes the glaze, and the pork is tender, sweet and sticky.

I also made an Asian style slaw, with cabbage and my last 2 carrots and 3 green onions. This was so good, as I added some toasted cashews for a bit of crunch!

For the pork, make a marinade by combining:

1/2 cup mango juice
1/2 cup hoisin sauce
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon tamarind paste
1 heaped teaspoon minced fresh ginger
2 teaspoons minced fresh garlic
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
pinch of chili flakes

Place 2 pork tenderloins into a resealable plastic bag, and add the marinade. Press as much air out as possible when sealing the bag.

Leave the pork in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours, or overnight, before grilling.

Cook the pork on a hot, oiled grill, turning often and basting each time you turn it.

Use the reserved marinade to baste the meat; discard any that is unused.

Cook until the pork is cooked through, then remove it from the grill and allow it to rest for 5 minutes before slicing and serving the meat.

To make the Asian slaw, combine the vegetables in a large bowl:

1/2 cabbage, thinly sliced
2 medium carrots, peeled and grated
3 green onions, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons fresh chives, thinly sliced

 To make the dressing, whisk together:

1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon peanut butter
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
1 clove garlic, minced
salt and pepper to taste

Add the dressing to the salad, and mix well. Do not use it all, add a little bit at a time; you don't want the vegetables swimming in dressing, just nicely coated.

Add some toasted cashews and serve alongside the sliced pork.

  • The marinade is easy to make; consider doubling the recipe and freezing half for another time. The pork can also be frozen in the marinade. Defrost and cook when needed.
  • Ribs, chicken breast or whole chicken can be used instead of the pork tenderloin. Prawns can also be used, but they require less time in the marinade, no more than 30 minutes...throw them into the marinade and light the grill, they should be good to go when it has heated up.
  • Use any juice if you don't have mango available...I have used guava before. The juice is providing sweetness, so any juice other than lemon or lime will work.
  • A substitute for tamarind paste is lime juice. It is a direct substitution.
  • When I use this recipe to make ribs, I bake them, covered, in the marinade until they are tender, and then finish them off on the grill. The marinade and meat juices can be reduced to make a sauce for serving on the side.
  • Add as much chili as you can handle...dried chili flakes, sambal oelek, sriracha or fresh chilies that have been chopped. The link below explains the differences between sriracha and sambal oelek.
  • The pork can be served with rice. Use some coconut milk as your rice cooking liquid, and top the hot rice with diced avocado and fresh mango.
  • Extras have many uses. Try wraps, pork fried rice, pizza toppings, stir fry or shredding it and adding it to a chopped green salad, along with diced fresh mango and toasted cashews.
  • I used Savoy cabbage, any cabbage will work, as long as it is thinly sliced and the large stems/core are taken out.
  • Add other vegetables to the slaw...thinly sliced red peppers, bean sprouts, edamame, thinly sliced Asian pear, thinly sliced snow peas...use your imagination.
  • I wanted to use peanuts, but only had cashews. Any nuts that have been toasted will do the trick. They add crunch to the salad. Seeds such as sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds will work as well.
  • If you have Chinese style steam fried noodles, add some to the salad just before serving. This will add even more crunch!
  • The dressing will keep in the refrigerator for a few days, and can be used as a marinade if you wish.
  • I used crunchy peanut butter; smooth can be used, it's a personal choice. Try other nut butters if you have some available. I have a cashew and peanut butter that I meant to use, but I grabbed the peanut butter out of habit!

Monday, 6 April 2015

Zucchini Wrapped Chicken Breasts

When my family saw what I was making for dinner they were a bit concerned about how it would turn out. The end result? They were impressed at how juicy the chicken breasts were, and how much flavour they had!

This was really only about using up the zucchini...but it was easier to do than it looks, and well worth the effort.

Start off by slicing the zucchini, lengthwise, into really thin pieces. You will need at least 2 pieces per chicken breast. Try and avoid using the middle of the zucchini, where the seeds are, as this can be bitter. I saved the first few narrow pieces for another meal (tonight's risotto) when I will dice them and cook them.

I used a plastic 'mandoline' that I had bought as a stocking stuffer for my daughter one year. It cost $10 and was worth the investment!

If you don't have one, use the box grater...the one side usually has a wide blade. This worked well too, I cut some of my zucchini on here to try it out.

Lay the zucchini slices out and season one side lightly with salt and pepper.

Make a wet rub for the chicken by combining:

2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 - 2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme leaves
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt

Rub this all over the chicken breasts, making sure they are coated all over.

Heat the oven to 400F. Get some toothpicks ready to go, and it's time to wrap the chicken...

Wrap 2 slices of zucchini around each chicken breast, securing them with the toothpicks on the back (I always consider the skin side the front of the chicken).

Place the unseasoned side of the zucchini against the chicken.

Heat a heavy bottomed pan on high heat, adding some olive oil.

When the oil is almost at smoking point place the chicken breasts skin side down into the pan and allow them to cook for about 3 - 5 minutes. Do not move them!

When the chicken and zucchini are golden, as in the picture above, gently lift and turn the chicken breasts. Place the pan into the oven and bake until the chicken is completely cooked through.

Remove from the oven and allow the chicken to rest for 5 minutes, before plating and serving.

  • The high water content in the zucchini works to keep the chicken from drying out. The same can be achieved by wrapping the chicken in bacon slices...the fat in the bacon will help keep the chicken moist. Zucchini is the healthier choice!
  • I will use more zucchini next time, I only had enough for 2 pieces per breast.
  • It is important that both the pan and the oven are HOT. If they are not, the zucchini will start to release too much moisture and stew; the high heat will crisp it up right away.
  • Thinly sliced eggplant can be used if you like; again, make sure you use a high heat.
  • The chicken can be rubbed or marinated in whatever you choose. I like the mustard as it coats the chicken and creates a bit of a crust on the exposed parts when it is in the pan.
  • Thyme was my choice, use whichever fresh herbs you have available. Most work well with chicken...rosemary, basil, tarragon are some good choices. 
  • No herbs? Use lemon, lime or orange zest instead.
  • Hoisin sauce combined with minced garlic and ginger will add an Asian flavour...serve this with stir fried rice or noodles and vegetables.
  • Firm fleshed fish such as cod, tuna or marlin can also be wrapped this way. Jumbo scallops or prawns can be individually wrapped, skewered and grilled on a well oiled grill.
  • If you want to make a sauce, add chicken stock, wine or whipping cream to the pan while the chicken breasts are resting. Reduce slightly; whisk in some cold butter to the wine or chicken stock just before serving.
  • You could stuff the chicken breasts before wrapping them...
  • I removed the tenders from the chicken, cooked them with some salt and pepper, and they will be used to stuff spaghetti squash for tomorrow night (Baked Spaghetti Squash Stuffed with Chicken, Corn and Black Beans).

Friday, 3 April 2015

Grilled Chicken, Asparagus and Blue Cheese on Focaccia

Making this sandwhich solved a few problems for me...what to make with only 2 small chicken breasts, some fresh asparagus and spinach and a piece of blue cheese...and it needed to feed 4 people.

Since it was a beautiful sunny day I used the barbecue to cook the asparagus and chicken breast, and turned it all into a sandwhich. As for bread, I made some Focaccia with Caramelized Onion and Rosemary. This also gave me enough bread for lunches the next day.

Start out by making the Focaccia with Caramelized Onion and Rosemary.

When it has cooled, remove it from the baking sheet and cut it into 8 pieces, and split each one horizontally so that you can assemble the sandwhiches.

While the focaccia dough is rising, lightly oil the asparagus and grill it.

I also used up some more of those rubs by using one on the chicken breasts before putting them onto the grill to cook.When the chicken is cooked and cooled, slice it as thinly as possible.

Cook some bacon until crispy, and then allow it to cool and drain on paper towel, to remove as much of the excess bacon fat as possible.

Turn the oven on to 350F to pre-heat. Now to assemble the sandwhiches...

Spread one side of the bread with mayonnaise.

I finely chopped sundried tomatoes and mixed them into the mayonnaise for some extra flavour.

Place a layer of chicken breast on top of the mayonnaise.

Top that with asparagus; I had 5 spears per person.

Place 1 rasher of bacon, halved, onto the asparagus.

Thinly slice the blue cheese (mine was a soft Cambozola style cheese) and place it onto the other side of the bread.

Put the sandwhiches onto a baking sheet, leaving them open faced, and place into the oven to heat through. The bread will crisp up slightly and the cheese will melt. This took about 10 minutes,

Remove the sandwhiches from the oven and add fresh spinach to the bacon side. Place the cheese side on top, cut it half, and your sandwhich is ready to eat! Crispy bread and bacon, creamy cheese, slightly spicy chicken and soft, grilled asparagus...what a treat!

  • I spread this meal out over most of the afternoon, making the dough and leaving it to rise while I grilled the chicken and asparagus. I cooked the bacon while the focaccia was in the oven. When it was time to make dinner, everything was ready to put together.
  • I had originally planned to use ham instead of bacon, but got out voted on that choice! I think ham would be a great choice with the asparagus and chicken, and plan to use it next time.
  • The idea of using asparagus on a sandwhich would never have occurred to me if I hadn't tired one that someone else had made. Very yummy! If you don't have access to a grill, place it in a 350F oven and roast it.
  • Be sure not to overcook the asparagus, as it will be going back into the oven to heat again.
  • Use any cheese you like, I happened to have the blue cheese to use up. Smoked cheese of any kind would be nice, as would white cheddar, havarti or goat cheese.
  • If you have a crumbly blue cheese, think about crumbling and mixing it into the mayonnaise.
  • Other ideas for things to mix with the mayonnaise include roasted garlic; lemon zest and ground black pepper; chipotle chilies in adobo sauce; grainy mustard and maple syrup; chopped fresh herbs or fresh berries such as blackberries or raspberries.
  • Other grilled or roasted vegetables can be used...eggplant, zucchini, red peppers, onions or mushrooms. Try using some grilled fruit...pineapple, apple or peach.
  • Grilled vegetables make a great vegetarian sandwhich.
  • Add sliced fresh tomato when adding the spinach to the sandwhich (I had no tomatoes when I made this, but I think the contrast would be really great).
  • Use leftover cooked chicken, turkey or even pork. 
  • Instead of spinach use romaine,arugula or mixed baby greens.
  • Buy a fresh loaf of crusty bread and use that as the base for your sandwhich.
  • The filling can be used in a pasta sauce if you wish...dice the bacon and cook it along with some thinly sliced onions. Add the cooked, sliced chicken and asparagus. Just before draining the cooked pasta add some of the starchy cooking water to the pan, along with the blue cheese, to make it saucy. Toss with the hot pasta, and stir in the fresh spinach, allowing it to wilt. Top with more blue cheese if you wish.
  • This could also be used as a wrap filling, or a pizza topping.
  • Serve the sandwhich open faced, and top with a poached egg and you have a breakfast sandwhich.